What Was Rosalind Franklin's Role in Discovering DNA?


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Rosalind Franklin played a critical role in discovering DNA by taking high-resolution photos of crystallized DNA fibers using X-ray crystallography. She presented this data at a lecture in King's College. James Watson, now famous for winning the Nobel Prize for determining DNA structure along with his colleagues Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, was in attendance at this lecture. Watson was working with Francis Crick on solving 3D DNA structure and published a paper in 1953 on the structure of DNA.

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Rosalind Franklin collected some of the earliest data showing that DNA had two strands that were attached to each other and that it had a helical structure. Franklin had tense relationships with Maurice Wilkins, Francis Crick and James Watson. She left her laboratory at King's College to move to Birkbeck and agreed to not pursue any research on DNA. Because of this agreement, she began studying virus particles and made important discoveries about tobacco mosaic virus and polio. Her work was the foundation of modern virology.

Franklin died of ovarian cancer in 1958. It is theorized that her cancer was due to radiation exposure while conduction X-ray crystallography work. The Nobel Prize for elucidating DNA structure was awarded to Watson, Crick and Wilkins in 1962. The prize can only be shared among three living scientists, so Franklin was not acknowledged.

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